Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mt St. Helens Ride

As advertised, this past weekend was spend making a jaunt into Seattle for a visit to REI on Saturday followed by a journey South and a bit East to Mt St. Helens for a mountain bike ride.

I believe I'd mentioned this coming weekend is a three-day weekend for me.  My intent is to walk into the woods early Friday morning and not walk out until Sunday evening.  I'll be headed to the Staircase area of Olympic National Park for some back country backpacking.

I needed a few odds and ends before this trip so Saturday I made way East via ferry to Seattle.  For those not in the know, REI is not the only cool outdoor gear store.  First I stopped at Outdoor Research.  I'd been meaning to stop there for some time.  I'd found my 25% off coupon from the Gear Up Expo in Everett and wanted to put it to use.  If you've not been, go.  It doesn't have a huge retail store (in Seattle at least), but, trust me - the trip will be worth it.  You'll see.

Post Outdoor Research I did make it to REI and laid down triple digits $$$ on stuff I didn't even intend to buy.  That store has that effect on me.  Poorer, I now have everything I could ask for, for the backpacking trip this coming weekend.

Sunday I was up early to drive the 3.667 hours (three hours, forty minutes) to Mt St. Helens to meet Portlanders for a mountain bike ride.  See, it was Uma's birthday, it was a mountain bike ride, and in a place I'd not been......how could I not go?

After the meet and greet we were off.  And by off, I should explain.  It's been a bit since I've been biking with much regularity.  And, the bike with gears - the Ellsworth - is in the shop with a brake issue.  I was riding the too-high-geared-for-this-ride Surly Karate Monkey single speed.  Let's just say I was not going to be in contention for fastest biker.

This ride started as many rides do in the Pacific Northwest, in the woods and with a climb.  The trail was in excellent condition.

After a bit the trees started to break and I was given my first look at Mt St. Helens proper.


Other great views included, but were not limited to Mt Hood.....

.... and Mt Adams.

But, the focal point keeping my mind off my heavy breathing and high heart rate was St. Helens.

As we climbed the harder packed dirt trail in the woods gave way to gravelly "cat litter (as described by Uma)" pumice volcanic rock stuff.  More than 30 year after the eruption and there's vegetation but not much in the form of trees growing.

We started sort of in the opposite side of the mountain that the main blast direction was.  We climbed up going around the mountain in a counter-clockwise direction.  We ended up in the main blast area.  Given the scenery and lack of vegetation, it's hard to wrap your mind around how powerful the eruption was - not too mention the sound it must have made.  Wow.

I can only assume the rock cairns were exposed from eruption apparently left by aliens.

It was sort of like riding on the moon.  Lunar thoughts brought on looney behavior.  It was not long after we stopped when a juggling contest broke out.

The picture above of the juggling by me.  But, the video below by Uma.

There are even remnants of trees indicating the blast path.

If you're ever in the neighbourhood, I highly recommend riding the trails at Mt St. Helens.  Yes, there's climbing.  But, the views will take your mind off that.  I know I'll be back.  But, I'll be back in better condition and with a bike with gears.

A huge thanks to riders Michael, Sam, Andrew, and Pace.  A huger thanks to Uma for the invitation on her birthday ride.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Application In

I've sent in my back country camping permit application to the National Parks Service.  Specifically, I've made application to backpack and camp August 2nd, 3rd, and 4th - my first three-day weekend in August.

I've elected to make application to the Staircase area of the park.  It is in the Southeastern corner of the park near Lake Cushman.

Click the picture for bigger if you're interested in following along.

My tentative game plan is to park the truck at the Staircase Ranger Station early Friday morning.  From there I'd head up the trail to Flapjacks Lake.  According to the map - a nifty 7.5 miles.  I'd camp overnight there Friday night.

Saturday I'm planning on backtracking to the fork in the trail and then taking the left-hand fork up to Nine Stream campsite.  I'd camp overnight at Nine Stream.  If mileages on the map are correct, 9.6 miles for the day.

Sunday I'd pack up and head back to the truck at the Staircase Ranger Station - 9.1 miles.  As you can see, no distance records.  But, decent distances to check the gear and see some of the park.

Olympic National Park's Wilderness Trip Planner page is HERE.  A PDF version map of the whole park, along with campsite lists, food storage methods, and toilet facilities, is HERE.  If you download the map, you can zoom in to certain areas a bit easier than online, I think.

This coming weekend is sort of planned out.  Saturday I plan to do stuff around here and also head to Seattle, REI specifically, also do some chores, and chill.  Sunday I've been invited along on a mountain bike ride around Mt. St. Helens.  A video of the trail to be ridden is here:

With the Ellsworth in the shop with a brake issue, I'll be riding the single speed, hardtail, Surly Karate Monkey.  From the video I should get my climbing workout in!  Regardless, I've not been to Mt St. Helens yet and it's also been awhile since I've been on a mountain bike.  Two birds, one stone!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


I've been thinking the first weekend in August might be a good time to head to North Cascades National Park on a three-day weekend for some backpacking.  Reading the trails report, I'm giving this second thoughts.  I might elect to do this the third weekend in August.

I'm going to contact the Olympic National Park people instead.  Perhaps I can score a back country permit for an area there, instead.  If so, I'll do a backpacking thing there.

I was looking at my gear and assembling a tentative gear list.  I think I'm pretty well set.  I might head to REI and pick up some trekking poles, though.  And, as long as I'm there, a few more stuff sacks might be handy.

I think I'll yard-sale my gear on the living room floor and then pack it.  I want to see just how heavy, or not, it turns out to be.  I'll include a full water bladder and a couple of other water bottles full along with the food I'd need for the trip.

I'll pack one full set of clothes and assume I'll be wearing another set for weight purposes.  I'm of the one-day-to-wear-one-day-to-air in backpacking clothes philosophy.  I could grunge it out for just three days, but, I'm considering this three-day trip a test run for longer runs.

In other news, I'm going to try to get the full-suspension, geared mountain bike to the shop tonight.  The front brake is rubbing and I can't figure out what's up with it.  I'm thinking some mountain biking this coming weekend and having this fixed would be nice.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Suits Me

It has been about five months since I've moved to the greater Seattle area from the Midwest.  I live in a town of about 12,000.  Big enough to have some stuff but not big city.  Seattle proper is a very scenic ferry ride or a short traffic choked drive away.  In additional to the many outdoor recreational activities I moved here for, there are other things that have added to my enjoyment.

Beer festivals are high on the list.  There's at least three per month in the summer and at least one per month in the winter.  And, that's just in Washington.

Having more than one REI store within an hour's drive is another.  It's hard not to spend major bucks every time I go in one.

My local, actually County, library rocks!  The patrons are generally courteous and quiet.  But, the librarians do shush people if they make the mistake of thinking they are in a coffee shop instead of library.  And, they send me a reminder email about five days before a book is due!  This helps avoid overdue fees and gives me a reminder to renew online if I have to.

There's a noticeable lack of smokers here.  Smoking places are severely limited.  Some places don't allow it outside of their business.  It's illegal in bus stop shelters.  And, riders have no reservations about letting those who ignore the law have it.

There is such a thing as West Coast Laid Back Attitude.  Drivers go out of their way to stop to let pedestrians cross.  I almost never here a horn honk.  And most people are quite friendly.  There's a nice sense of community.  It's not just the dregs of society who use public transportation (that's the smokers, unfortunately).  There are public transportation users from all castes.

Not everything is roses here.  But I feel I made a great choice when I moved here.  I'm a bit far away from family but I've never a dull moment.  Usually my dilemma is deciding what I'm going to do next.  That's a "stressful" problem I can deal with.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Slow Time

This is an uncharacteristic non-outdoor (for the most part) weekend for me.  Sometimes things just workout this way.

I've started planning a backpacking excursion to North Cascades National Park, though.  I'm sort of eyeing the first weekend in August.  This August, weekends 1, 3, and 5 are three-day weekends for me.  I might tack on an extra day off work to facilitate a longer time in the backcountry.

As an added bonus(!), Labor Day weekend will be a four-day weekend for me!  You can bet I'll have plans for that longer stretch.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Olympic National Park

OK, here we go.  Click the pictures for bigger views.

This past Sunday I made a whirl-wind tour of Olympic National Park.  The game plan was to scout areas for potential camping and backpacking trips.  If you want to follow along at home, click THIS link to get the PDF map to download if you so choose.

The first area I visited was the Hurricane Ridge area.  I drove up to Port Angeles and then drove the road up to the visitor center.  The route is a bit steepish (5% to 7% for 20 plus miles, I think) and paved which make it a favorite for roadie bikers to train on.

On the referenced map, this area is on the far north side and towards  the center.  I stopped at the visitor center for a bit to quiz a ranger.  Then I drove to the parking lot a bit farther up the road and stuck out on the trail to Hurricane Hill.

You'll see in the referenced (later) link to the whole group of pictures there were numerous wildflowers along the way.

I saw a sign for some lingering snow.....

.....and there it was.

The views from this trail were outstanding.  The number of people up there was large.  Despite that, I think I could take some lesser traveled trails and get away from the masses pretty quickly.

I departed Hurricane Ridge driving back through Port Angeles south on US 101 to Hoodsport.  Once there I headed into the park by way of Cushman Lake.....

.....to the Staircase area.  For those following along on the map, it is in the south eastern corner of the park.  I parked and headed out on the main trail heading north and west.

I did find a cool suspension bridge not far from the parking lot.

You'll see in the main group of pictures, but this area reminded me of Star Wars Episode Six and I expected Ewoks to pop up anytime.  None were seen.  I did see some tall, old growth forest trees, though.

I liked the Staircase area and the trail I was hiking.  Looking at the map I see several primitive campsites farther up the trail that would make backpacking fun.  I've heard Flapjack Lakes is supposed to be quite scenic.

I got back to town later in the evening.  My mission of scouting areas to explore was complete.  I'll be doing some camping and/or backpacking in Olympic National Park probably yet this season.  The batch of pictures I took are HERE.

I've one more National Park to hit.  I'll be making a trip or two to North Cascades National Park in August and/or September.  The weather has been outstanding this summer and I'm trying to cram as many excursions into the back country as I can.

However, this coming weekend I have alternate activities that will keep me from the back country.  Oh well, sometimes a dude's gotta do what he's gotta do.

Monday, July 15, 2013

John Wayne Pioneer Trail

If you don't know the drill yet, or are a new-comer, clicking on the pictures does make them bigger.  Word.

This past Saturday I ended up in North Bend, WA with a co-worker.  The task for the day was to ride the Snoqualmie Valley Trail to

Rattlesnake Lake and then the

John Wayne Pioneer Trail east to Snoqualmie Pass and through the 2.3 mile long tunnel.

Both trails are rails-to-trails trails.  From North Bend to Rattlesnake Lake and from the lake to the pass is uphill at some rate.  Given it is an old railroad bed, the maximum incline was 3%.  The trail was pretty much up at some percent slope.

Along the way there were climbers climbing and

belayers belaying.

When we departed North Bend is was about 55 degrees.  The day was supposed to top out at 70.  It was a great day to be out riding.

There were many wildflowers blooming along the way.  I stopped to take a few pictures of them.

We arrived at the tunnel about dinner time.  Convenient picnic tables aided our feeding.  As aforementioned, the tunnel is 2.3 miles long.  It is big enough to fit a railcar through but it is unlit.  We strapped the bike lights on a started in by walking our bikes.

The idea of starting our walking our bikes was to get our eyes accustomed to the dark.  It was bright sunshiny out on Saturday and five minutes of walking helped much to prep the eyes into Vampire mode.

Being inside the tunnel can be described as weird.  It was quite cool.  In fact, when I stopped to take a picture and put the camera in front of a bike light to see where the "on" button was, I could see my breath.

We passed under where the Pacific Crest Trail goes through and popped out on the other side near Hyak.

We continued on the trail until we came to a lake.  Much to our surprise we found a sign indicated the lake was "closed."

The reality is the lake was not closed on this particular day.  However, they (the proverbial "they") do close the lake from time to time when they are doing blasting near an adjacent highway.  Evidently, blast particulates sort of bomb the lake when they do blast.

Once again no bears were seen.  Though we did see a Deere on the trail.  Other than that, not much wildlife presented itself for our photographic excitement.

We did have some nice views of the Cascade Mountain Range, though.

On our way back we found climbers up the wazoo.  We slowed our pace to a crawl to not run over any of them and to watch a bit.

For those not in the know, the old television series Twin Peaks was filmed in North Bend and Snoqualmie.  At least some of the outdoor scenes.  Twede's Cafe was featured on the show.  So you Twin Peaks afictionados, consider yourself covered with the photo below.

Saturday ended up with 63 bike miles.  It was a fun day and ride.  All of the pictures from Saturday can be seen HERE.  I'd go for the slideshow option.  Click the button right below the photo count in the upper right-hand corner.  It's a square with an arrow thing in it.

Sunday was Olympic National Park recon day.  I've photos to download from that trip.  Wednesday I'll post the recap with some of the pictures and a link to the whole batch.  The short story, it was wonderful.  I'm scheming a backpacking trip there in August or September.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Campin' Mt. Rainier Style

Per the usual style around here, I'll give a disjointed narrative of my camping trip in Mt. Rainier National Park June 28th - 30th with the commentary sprinkled between the pictures.  And as per the usual, the words may, or may not, match up with the pictures.  Deal with it.

On Friday June 28th I arrived home from work, changed clothes, tossed the pre-packed gear, etc., in the truck and headed for Mt. Rainier National Park.  I departed at 6 PM and had the tent set up by 8:30 PM.

Cougar Rock Campground had opened the day before.  I set my sights there.  I pulled in to a very full campsite.  I felt fortunate to find a site.

What I've noticed some interesting (to me) things about camping in this National Park.  The campsites, at least the driving portion of them, are a bit small.  But, there is nice distance between sites.  This pretty much keeps the RV's as big as Greyhound buses and the monster long fifth-wheel campers out.  I did see a few shorter, pull behind campers there.  However, tents out numbered the campers by about five to one.  I attribute this to the shorter driving areas at each site, no electrical outlets to plug into, and no showers in the park.  This keeps the riff-raff at bay and sort of encourages the rest of us.  I very much like this.  In addition, because there's no electrical hook ups, people go to bed when it's dark.  The park gets quite quiet when the sun's down and people, like me, want to get some sleep.

Saturday I drove to the Longmire area, parked the car, and charged up the Rampart Ridge Trail.  I must say, this is a steep trail until you top out just past the viewing area.

My intention was to go up the Rampart Ridge Trail, intersect the Wonderland Trail, and bring that down and back to Longmire.  As you probably already know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  This was no exception.  The trail - nice, great shape, scenic.  But, I was thwarted.  In fact, I was nearly eaten.  Bear?  Nope.  Mosquitoes.  The snow melting out leaves puddles and the mosquitoes are vicious.  The Ranger at Longmire told me bug spray has no effect on them.  Apparently, wilderness mosquitoes are more bad-ass than their urban counterparts.

I ended up doing an out-n-back on the Rampart Ridge Trail.  That was OK.  It was hot and the mosquitoes sucked literally and figuratively.

Sunday was hot as well.  My game plan was to get on the Wonderland Trail at Cougar Rock Campground and take it east for a bit.

The trail sort of runs along the Paradise river.  It was scenic as I hiked.  I passed two sets of waterfalls that not only provided nice views, but an air conditioning cold air blast to cool off as well.

I happened by exactly what I'd hoped - a Wilderness Campsite.  Complete with bear pole!

And, and Wilderness toilet!

With a bear-proof container for.....

.....ass wipe and rubber gloves (?)!!!

I almost wished I had to go.

When I made it to Narada Falls, I had a choice to make.  I was either going to exit the Wonderland trail and take the trail up to Paradise or stay on the Wonderland Trail to Reflection Lakes.

It was hot, I wanted a beer, so in the direction of Paradise I went.  I'd gone maybe 100 yards up only to find the trail was completely obscured by snow.  I could not make out where the trail went.

I back-tracked, picked up the Wonderland Trail, and off toward Reflection Lakes I went.  I did have to cross some snow, but, I was able to determine where the trail ran.  I popped out of the woods at the lake.

Since this was my turn-around point I lingered to take pictures and eat lunch.  I was sort of disappointed to find the highway right there.

I retraced my path back toward Cougar Rock Campground and the truck.  The trail had many people on it.  I chatted with a few including a dude that was quizzing me about Narada Falls, Reflection Lakes, and how far, etc.  He had a heavy eastern European accent.  I wasn't sure where he was from, exactly.  My hope is he was Hungarian.  I'm going with Hungarian.  Later I was hiking with three dudes coming back from an over-night camping trip.  We met a rather large Asian dude hiking the other way with more on his back than I've ever seen.  It had to have been at least 70 pounds and maybe more.  He had a very large backpack jammed full and with other stuff attached to the outside including another day-hike sized backpack.  He said he had enough food for nine days and several books.  I guessing an entire library.

The entire set of pictures for this trip can be seen HERE.  I recommend clicking on the "slideshow" option in the upper right-hand corner thereabouts.  Though I had a great time, I was not pleased at the number of people and how full the campgrounds were.  I'll probably not be back to Mt. Rainier National Park until after Labor Day when the crowds have thinned and I know all the snow (well, most of the snow) is gone.  I've a four-day weekend over Labor Day and am thinking backpack trip for part of the Wonderland Trail.  We'll see. Labor Day is a long way off.